More than half of all refugee children are out of school

Written by Isaac Kuugaayeng

Education is a basic human right and tool that can transform individuals’ lives and yield more significant societal change. Education empowers, enlightens, and gives protection. Maybe not everyone is fond of the traditional schooling system of their own country, but no one can deny the power of learning – and this is what we should stand for. So, useful or not, knowledge should still be easier to access. Those who want to learn should be able to do so, especially in this era of digitalization, where many valuable teaching and learning tools can now be stored and accessed on the internet. The developed world can boast about parents waking their younger kids, preparing and taking them to daycare. Older kids and teenagers eagerly enter through the gates of their educational institutions in their parents’ cars or their school buses with beaming smiles on their faces.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, school is where refugees are offered a second opportunity. Failure to make this opportunity available to refugees will be an absolute denial of the chance to acquire the requisite knowledge and skills, which will be a springboard for their future development. Pathetic enough, it appears education is only a privilege in some parts of the world. The situation is worse in conflict areas where the conditions for providing education are incredibly challenging. There are 75 million children living in places devastated by violence, which means that educational institutions are under attack, and students and teachers get hurt.  In many refugee camps, there is no daycare. There are no schools or other educational institutions, let alone universities. Some people in these parts do not even know that such establishments exist. The chances for learning are slim, and education is consistently dwindling now and then, with the illiteracy rate skyrocketing. According to the UN Refugee Agency report from August 2019, about 3.7 million refugee children do not attend school. The statistics from the UNHCR indicate that as of August of last year, only 24 % of refugee children were enrolled in secondary school, while scarcely 3 % attended university.

The gross decline in the drop out of school by refugee children could be a result of the lack of funding for refugee education. In many refugee camps, the basic infrastructure needed to support schooling are readily unavailable because of the lack of funding from central and local governments, private sector individuals, civil society organizations and NGOs, churches etc. 

Syrian refugee children attend a lesson in a UNICEF temporary classroom in northern Lebanon. Photo by Russell Watkins/DFID

Moreover, for many refugees, their survival is their principal concern. Focus on education will only be futile for some refugees because their minds are not mentally and psychologically psyched enough to take the academic burden that may set in when they enroll in schools. Hence, access to education is often overlooked and seen as a secondary matter, and its importance is degraded. The displacement of refugees usually lasts from 10 to 20 years. In a worst-case scenario, this can lead to a 20-year-old or older person without any education or the will to pursue it. It often shows that age is a massive barrier to pursuing education, especially elementary. The older people get, the less confidence they have in themselves regarding learning. Even in instances where these refugees defy the odds and make it a point to still go to school, the chances of going far and getting into university or college are so slim.

As said by Gandhi, there is a need for greater investment in refugee education to ensure that children who are victims of such circumstances do not just have their future shattered but will get the chance to be educated and make meaningful contributions to society. This implies that educating refugee children does not result in any ‘instant’ benefit. It does not provide shelter, nor does it feed hungry mouths. But it brings hope and gives purpose, drawing these children toward a better and fulfilled future. In many countries, educating refugees is daunting as they are frequently stationed in parts where the countries in question struggle with educating their citizens. Still, some refugee camps offer basic schooling. It may not be of the most excellent quality, but it helps ignite interest in learning. Studying can provide a daily structure, which is of high importance in the misplaced life of a refugee child. Many of them are alone, not accompanied by their families, and learning in classes with other children provides foundations for further education and the comforting company of others.

It is important to note that not only is the inclusion of refugee children into the school system a critical issue, but also for the greater good of society. This suffices to say that the inclusion of refugee children into the school should not be limited to just some unofficial parallel schools, but rather the recognized national education system as this will give them a chance to follow a formal, recognized curriculum through pre-primary, primary and secondary school. This will provide them with the credentials that will allow them to pursue higher education or more technical training. Education gives children a sense of normality and teaches them about life outside of their current, vulnerable environment. One of the education briefs of the UNHCR stated that “Educated children and youth stand a greater chance of becoming adults who can participate effectively in civil society in all contexts.” Going to school allows easier integration into the new environment. The approach to educating refugees will be more impactful and rewarding than ever. Turkey, for instance, provides Turkish language training to help refugees integrate more quickly. Children feel more secure going to school if they at least understand the language basics. They can better follow the lessons and feel included and like they belong.

There have been more substantial improvements in the situation than years ago. However, there is still room for bettering the situation. We cannot anticipate any significant change if we do not strive to improve the world in every way possible. Governments across the globe can contribute to making the situation better. Private individuals, churches, and societies who wish to make the world a better place can also donate to many nonprofit organizations to make better the condition of refugee children and reduce the steep decline in the dropout. Also, there are a lot of people who leave their comfortable homes and nations in order to aid and educate young children who have probably never even seen a book in their lives, and such individuals deserve the support of the world in such a great course.


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